Amazon Union Vote Count Begins: Live Updates

The ballots in the union drive at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., are expected to be counted by hand starting either Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.
Credit…Charity Rachelle for The New York Times

The first ballots counted in a bid to unionize an Amazon warehouse in Alabama were heavily against the effort, according to an unofficial tally of the results by The New York Times.

More than two-thirds of the first 600 votes to be counted were against unionization. The ballots are being counted in a random order in the National Labor Relations Board’s office in Birmingham.

The union seeking to represent workers said late Wednesday that 3,215 ballots had been cast — or about 55 percent of the roughly 5,800 workers who were eligible to vote. Hundreds of ballots are being contested, mostly by Amazon, according to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union.



Unofficial Tally of Amazon Warehouse Unionization Votes

1,608 yes votes are needed for the union to win today.

The New York Times·As of 5:39 p.m. Hundreds of ballots have been contested, which could delay either side from reaching the threshold. One ballot was marked as void.

The vote counting is being shown on a videoconference call to a small number of outsiders, including journalists, in addition to representatives from the union and the company.

Union elections are typically held in person, but the labor board determined that the election should be conducted by mail to minimize risks during the pandemic. The ballots were sent to workers in early February and were due at the agency before March 30. Since then, Amazon and the union have had a chance to challenge whether particular workers were eligible to vote.

When the public counting is done, the agency will announce the formal results if the margin of victory for one side is greater than the number of contested ballots.

If the margin is narrower, then it could take two to three weeks for the N.L.R.B. to hold a hearing to sort through the contested ballots and take evidence from both sides on whether they should be counted.

Southwest Airlines said on Thursday that it would recall all flight attendants who had signed up for voluntary leave because the company expected demand for flights to rebound this summer.

Starting June 1, more than 2,700 flight attendants who had agreed to take extended leaves of absence will be called back to work, the airline said in a statement. Last week, Southwest said it would also recall 209 pilots, though several hundred others will remain on leave for now.

“The intended flight attendant recall, as with the recent pilot recall, is to position Southwest for planned flight increases in the summer schedule,” Brian Parrish, a spokesman, said in a statement. “The flight increases are based upon the improvements in leisure travel demand.”

Airlines have seen ticket sales improve in recent weeks as vaccinations have accelerated and people are growing more comfortable about boarding flights. Last Friday was the busiest day at U.S. airports since the start of pandemic, judging by the number of people screened by the Transportation Security Administration.

As a result, airlines have started to add more flights. Delta Air Lines said it would start selling middle seats after blocking them for more than a year, and United Airlines said last week that it would start to hire pilots again.

“We can see that light at the end of the tunnel,” Scott Kirby, United’s chief executive, said at a virtual aviation summit last week. “Domestic leisure demand has almost entirely recovered. It tells you something about the pent-up desire for travel, the pent-up desire to remake those connections with people.”

Yet international travel and corporate travel, two profitable parts of the business for many airlines, are lagging far behind and might not recover fully for months or years.

The Netflix office in Los Angeles. The streaming service signed a deal for the exclusive U.S. rights to Sony’s films once they leave theaters and premium video-on-demand services.
Credit…Hunter Kerhart for The New York Times

In another sign of Netflix’s growing dominance, Sony Pictures Entertainment has signed a five-year deal that will give the streaming giant the exclusive U.S. rights to Sony’s films once they leave theaters and premium video-on-demand services.

The deal, which begins with the studio’s 2022 releases, builds on Netflix’s existing partnership with Sony Pictures Animation and replaces the agreement Sony, one of the few major studios without its own streaming service, has had with Starz Entertainment since 2005.

That means that upcoming films like “Morbius,” which features Jared Leto playing the Marvel vampire, and “Uncharted,” starring Tom Holland in an adaptation of a Playstation game, will become available on Netflix after they complete their theatrical and on-demand runs. As part of the deal, Sony will make two to three direct-to-streaming movies a year for Netflix, expanding Sony’s slate and giving Netflix exclusive films for its service.

“This not only allows us to bring Sony’s impressive slate of beloved film franchises and new I.P. to Netflix in the U.S., but it also establishes a new source of first-run films for Netflix movie lovers worldwide,” Netflix’s head of global films, Scott Stuber, said in a statement on Thursday.

Sony emphasized that the arrangement would not alter its theatrical strategy. Before the pandemic, the studio released 15 to 20 films a year in theaters, a plan it intends to resume now that theaters are reopening. Films made for Netflix will be in addition to the theatrical releases, it said.

With the pandemic shutting down movie theaters for much of last year, Sony Pictures, like most studios, pushed many of its films into 2021. It also sold a handful to streaming services, including “Greyhound” with Tom Hanks to Apple and the upcoming animated comedy “The Mitchells vs The Machines,” from the creators of Sony’s Oscar-winning film “Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse,” to Netflix.

(An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Sony signed a four-year deal.)

A sign points out “Tesla Strasse” or “Tesla Street” outside the new factory under construction outside Berlin.
Credit…Axel Schmidt/Reuters

A year after starting construction on its first European auto assembly plant on the outskirts of Berlin, Tesla is complaining that German regulations are too slow and inflexible, risking a delay in the opening of the facility.

“Obstacles in German law governing permits are slowing down the necessary industrial transformation and thus the transformation of transport and energy,” Tesla said in a 10-page letter, which was seen by The New York Times.

Tesla wants to open its “gigafactory” as soon as June, and is hiring up to 12,000 workers to build as many as 500,000 electric vehicles a year. But the Office of Environment in Brandenburg, the federal state that encircles Berlin, has yet to say the factory can open.

Tesla sent the letter to the top administrative court in the region in support of a lawsuit filed by Environmental Action Germany that charges the federal government with not doing enough to keep to the targets of the Paris Climate Accord. The letter is similar to a “friend of the court” brief, which are not common in German courts, and it was unclear whether the German judges would even consider it.

Tesla is not afraid to pick fights with local authorities. At the company’s plant in Fremont, Calif., Elon Musk, the chief executive, clashed with officials last year over his efforts to keep the plant running during the pandemic.

Government authorities insist they have done everything in their power to speed up the regulatory process for Tesla, including securing logging and building permits, completing a process that normally takes 11 months in just four weeks. Along the way, the Tesla plant has faced protests by environmentalists and extensive public hearings. Many of the complaints center on the amount of water the plant will consume.

In the letter, Tesla charges that any delay in opening the plant would hinder European emission goals by keeping fossil-fuel burning vehicles on the road.

Tesla cars are popular in Germany, but not everyone is applauding its move.

“It’s surprising that Tesla feels badly treated at all,” wrote the conservative-leaning Welt, a daily newspaper, noting that the future factory — sometimes known as Germany’s fastest construction project — was given every advantage on state and federal level.

The Tesla letter said that the permit process was too slow and not flexible enough in dealing with changes to the original application.

“This discourages necessary investment in clean energy projects and infrastructure and makes it virtually impossible for Germany to meet its climate targets,” it read.

The Disney Cruise Line ships Fantasy, left, and Dream sat stationary off of Cocoa Beach, Fla., in March. 
Credit…Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel, via Associated Press

Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida said on Thursday that the state was suing the federal government to allow cruise ships to resume sailing on United States waters immediately, more than a year after they were docked to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Cruise ships in the United States must meet requirements set out last year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its Framework for Conditional Sailing Order before they can resume operation. The industry had been waiting for details from the C.D.C. on how to proceed. On Friday, the agency issued technical guidance, but the cruise lines said the rules were unworkable and that they lacked a clear path forward to resuming sailing.

“The C.D.C. has locked down this industry for over a year, this is not reasonable, this is not rational,” Mr. DeSantis, a Republican, said at a news conference on Thursday at PortMiami, a major cruise hub. “We don’t believe the federal government has the right to mothball a major industry for over a year based on very little evidence and very little data.”

Cruises from U.S. ports are on pause, but companies in Europe have restarted sailings and several cruise lines have announced departures from ports in the Caribbean and Bermuda.

The governor has maintained that the ban on cruises had disproportionately affected the state, where local businesses depend heavily on spending by cruise passengers.

“People are going to cruise one way or another,” Mr. DeSantis said. The question is, are we going to do it out of Florida, which is the No. 1 place to do it in the world, or are they going to be doing it out of the Bahamas or other locations?”

The cruise industry argues that the rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines in the United States will make it possible to return to operations safety and has called on the C.D.C. to lift restrictions to allow a phased resumption of U.S. sailings starting in July.

The C.D.C.’s guidelines “seem to reflect a zero-risk objective rather than the mitigation approach to Covid that is the basis for every other U.S. sector of our society,” the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry trade group, said in a statement on Monday.

Asked what the Biden Administration thought would be an appropriate time frame to restart U.S. cruises, Jen Psaki, the White House spokeswoman, deferred to the C.D.C. guidance, which she said was based on data.

“They have put guidance out on cruise lines,” she said during the White House news briefing on Thursday. “If they decide to update them, that is their prerogative to do, but that is not a decision made in the White House.”

Some cruise lines operating outside the United States have said they would require all passengers to be vaccinated. Mr. DeSantis last week issued an executive order prohibiting businesses from requiring patrons or customers to show vaccine documentation, or risk losing grants or contracts funded by the state.

Pushing global vaccination “is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do,” Jerome H. Powell, the Fed chair, said on Thursday.
Credit…Pool photo by Stefani Reynolds

Jerome H. Powell, the head of the Federal Reserve, stressed the economic importance of controlling the coronavirus pandemic by getting the world vaccinated, while speaking on an International Monetary Fund panel Thursday.

“Viruses are no respecters of borders,” Mr. Powell said. “Until the world, really, is vaccinated, we’re all going to be at risk of new mutations and we won’t be able to really resume activity with confidence all around the world.”

While some advanced economies including the United States are moving quickly toward widespread vaccination, many emerging market countries lag far behind: Some have administered as little as one dose per 1,000 residents.

Kristalina Georgieva, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, said during the same panel that policymakers need to focus on the public health situation.

“This year, next year, vaccine policy is economic policy,” Ms. Georgieva said. She also warned against pulling back on policy support prematurely, and stressed that clear communication about policy plans from the United States is helpful and important.

“Premature withdrawal of support can cut the recovery short,” she said.

The Fed, arguably the world’s most critical central bank as steward of the widely used dollar, has held interest rates near-zero since March 2020 and has been buying about $120 billion in government-backed bonds per month, policies meant to stoke spending by keeping borrowing cheap. Officials have been clear that they will continue to support the economy until it is closer to their goals of maximum employment and stable inflation — and that while the situation is improving, it isn’t there yet.

“There are a number of factors that are coming together to support a brighter outlook for the U.S. economy,” Mr. Powell said of the United States, noting that tens of millions of Americans are now fully vaccinated, so the economy should be able to fully reopen fairly soon. “The recovery though, here, remains uneven and incomplete.”

Employers added more than 900,000 workers to payrolls last month, but the country is still missing millions of jobs compared with February 2020 and fresh data showed that state jobless claims climbed last week. Mr. Powell noted that the burden is falling heavily on those least able to bear it: Lower-income service workers, who are heavily minorities and women, have been disproportionately hit by the job losses.

Mr. Powell said that “there’s a pretty substantial tent city”he drives past on his way home from work in Washington when asked what keeps him up at night. “We just need to keep reminding ourselves that even though some parts of the economy are just doing great, there’s a very large group of people who are not.”

Revolut’s office in London in 2018. The banking start-up is offering its workers the opportunity to work abroad for up to two months a year.
Credit…Tom Jamieson for The New York Times

Before the pandemic, companies used to lure top talent with lavish perks like subsidized massages, Pilates classes and free gourmet meals. Now, the hottest enticement is permission to work not just from home, but from anywhere — even, say, from the French Alps or a Caribbean island.

Revolut, a banking start-up based in London, said Thursday that it would allow its more than 2,000 employees to work abroad for up to two months a year in response to requests to visit overseas family for longer periods.

“Our employees asked for flexibility, and that’s what we’re giving them as part of our ongoing focus on employee experience and choice,” said Jim MacDougall, Revolut’s vice president of human resources.

Georgia Pacquette-Bramble, a communications manager for Revolut, said she was planning to trade the winter in London for Spain or somewhere in the Caribbean. Other colleagues have talked about spending time with family abroad.

Revolut has been valued at $5.5 billion, making it one of Europe’s most valuable financial technology firms. It joins a number of companies that will allow more flexible working arrangements to continue after the pandemic ends. JPMorgan Chase, Salesforce, Ford Motor and Target have said they are giving up office space as they expect workers to spend less time in the office, and Spotify has told employees they can work from anywhere.

Not all companies, however, are shifting away from the office. Tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple, have added office space in New York over the last year. Amazon told employees it would “return to an office-centric culture as our baseline.”

Dr. Dan Wang, an associate professor at Columbia Business School, said he did not expect office-centric companies to lose top talent to companies that allow flexible working, in part because many employees prefer to work from the office.

Furthermore, when employees are not in the same space, there are fewer spontaneous interactions, and spontaneity is critical for developing ideas and collaborating, Dr. Wang said.

“There is a cost,” he said. “Yes, we can interact via email, via Slack, via Zoom — we’ve all gotten used to that. But part of it is that we’ve lowered our expectations for what social interaction actually entails.”

Revolut said it studied tax laws and regulations before introducing its policy, and that each request to work from abroad was subject to an internal review and approval process. But for some companies looking to put a similar policy in place, a hefty tax bill, or at least a complicated tax return, could be a drawback.

A General Motors plant in Missouri. A shortage of computer chips has forced almost all automakers to slow or suspend production.
Credit…Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

A shortage of computer chips continues to roil automakers. General Motors said on Thursday that it would suspend production at several North American auto plants and keep some others that were already idle closed until May.

The automaker also said it would restart production at two midsize pickup truck plants that have been idle for the last two weeks.

The moves reflect the difficulties automakers are experiencing amid a shortage of semiconductors used in a wide variety of electronics, including engine controllers and entertainment and navigation systems. It is not unusual for a new car to require dozens of chips.

G.M. has said it hopes to make up for the production shortfalls over the course of the year, and it estimated the disruptions will lower this year’s operating profit by $1.5 billion to $2 billion.

The shortage is a result of a shift semiconductor producers made a year ago when auto plants shut down because of the pandemic and demand for consumer electronics such as laptops and tablets spiked as the people stayed home. When car factories reopened, chip makers were not able to quickly meet their demand because their factories were already running at capacity.

Last month, a fire at a Japanese chip factory owned by Renesas Electronics dealt yet another setback to automakers. The company has said it could take months to restore production at that plant.

The shortage of computer chips has forced almost all automakers to slow or suspend production. G.M. and Ford Motor suffered disruptions in the first quarter that left them unable to produce as many vehicles as they had hoped and left the companies with smaller inventories than usual in North America.

G.M. is idling a plant this month in Spring Hill, Tenn., for two weeks, and will suspend production at two others near Lansing, Mich., and one plant in Mexico for a week. The plants primarily make midsize sport-utility vehicles, such as the Chevrolet Blazer and Chevrolet Traverse.

GameStop shares are up more than 2,500 percent since Ryan Cohen’s investment firm disclosed its stake in the company.
Credit…Carlo Allegri/Reuters

GameStop, the company at the heart of a Reddit-fueled retail trading bonanza that briefly captured the country’s imagination early this year, said on Thursday that it was nominating Ryan Cohen, a co-founder of Chewy, to become its chairman later this year.

Mr. Cohen’s investment in the company last year was one of the developments that attracted swarms of individual investors to GameStop. When his investment vehicle, RC Ventures, disclosed a 10 percent stake in the company, the conversation on Reddit’s Wall Street Bets forum quickly zeroed in on Mr. Cohen’s proven record of building an online business and the potential for him to transform GameStop into an online destination for video game sales.

Mr. Cohen had credibility with the retail investors who congregated on Reddit. In 2020, Chewy had been a popular stock on the Wall Street Bets message board as the shares climbed by as much as 300 percent over the course of the year.

Roughly a month after Mr. Cohen’s August 2020 disclosure of his purchases of GameStop’s shares, the price had doubled, a climb that grew increasingly vertiginous before the stock topped out with a gain of more than 5,000 percent in late January, thanks to an enormous short squeeze of hedge funds that were betting against the stock.

The stock then collapsed losing virtually all its gains.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. Shares have rebounded by more than 70 percent since the end of February. They remain up more than 2,500 percent since Mr. Cohen’s investment firm disclosed its stake, which is now valued at roughly $1.6 billion.

On Thursday, the stock fell slightly despite the new role for Mr. Cohen. GameStop said in a statement that he would take the role after its annual shareholder meeting in June.

Gina Raimondo, the secretary of the Commerce Department, which said that seven Chinese entities were at odds with U.S. foreign policy or national security interests.
Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

The Biden administration on Thursday added seven Chinese supercomputing entities to a U.S. blacklist over national security concerns, a move that curbs their access to American technology.

The Commerce Department said that the seven entities were at odds with U.S. foreign policy or national security interests. The department said the entities were “involved with building supercomputers used by China’s military actors, its destabilizing military modernization efforts, and/or weapons of mass destruction (W.M.D.) programs.”

“Supercomputing capabilities are vital for the development of many — perhaps almost all — modern weapons and national security systems, such as nuclear weapons and hypersonic weapons,” the commerce secretary, Gina Raimondo, said in a statement. “The Department of Commerce will use the full extent of its authorities to prevent China from leveraging U.S. technologies to support these destabilizing military modernization efforts.”

The announcement is an early step by the new administration as it calibrates its approach to China under President Biden, and it comes three weeks after top officials from the two countries gathered in Anchorage for a tense meeting.

The move by the Commerce Department builds on efforts by the Trump administration to restrict certain Chinese companies’ access to American technology.

In its move on Thursday, the department added the seven Chinese entities to what is known as the entity list, which bars them from purchasing American technology or products without special permission. The seven entities are Tianjin Phytium Information Technology, Shanghai High-Performance Integrated Circuit Design Center, Sunway Microelectronics, the National Supercomputing Center Jinan, the National Supercomputing Center Shenzhen, the National Supercomputing Center Wuxi and the National Supercomputing Center Zhengzhou.

Janet Yellen, the Treasury secretary, warned of a divergence in the global economy if more was not done to help developing nations.
Credit…Nicholas Kamm/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen called on the world’s largest economies to continue providing significant fiscal support to ensure a robust recovery from the pandemic, and she warned of a “permanent divergence” in the global economy if more was not done to help developing countries manage the crisis.

The comments came as top economic officials have been gathering virtually this week during the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Ms. Yellen sought to reassert American leadership in addressing global inequality and climate change.

“We can only resolve these problems through strong international cooperation,” Ms. Yellen said in a statement to the joint International Monetary and Financial Committee and Development Committee.

Economic policymakers are concerned that the slow rollout of vaccines in developing countries could stunt the global economic recovery, which the I.M.F. expects to gather pace this year. If the virus is not contained everywhere, they fear, then travel and international commerce cannot fully resume.

The United States is urging countries to accelerate vaccine deployment, and Ms. Yellen said that the Biden administration was exploring ways to share excess vaccine supply. She said that international bodies must make sure that financing was not an obstacle for global vaccination initiatives.

Despite signs of progress for the global economic outlook, Ms. Yellen said that the job of providing fiscal support was not done.

“I urge major economies to not just avoid removing support too early, but to strive to provide significant amounts of new fiscal support to secure a robust recovery,” Ms. Yellen said.

The United States is also supporting the I.M.F. and the World Bank in providing additional emergency financing to poor countries and debt relief so that they can better respond to the health crisis.

Beyond the pandemic, Ms. Yellen emphasized the importance of countries ramping up their focus on policies that address climate change. She said that she had asked the World Bank to lead on helping nations make “transformative climate investments” to manage risks and reduce emissions and praised the I.M.F.’s study of the financial risks of climate change.

A “help wanted” sign at a Home Depot in Mount Prospect, Ill. Confidence about hiring in the U.S. economy is growing.
Credit…Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

Stocks on Wall Street extended their gains on Thursday, as global markets also edged higher.

The S&P 500 rose 0.4 percent, further into record territory, while the Nasdaq composite climbed 1 percent.

The rally on Thursday extended gains that began the day before, after investors were buoyed by remarks in the minutes of the Federal Reserve officials’ meeting last month, which suggested policies that have supported the markets and businesses through the pandemic are not about to be removed.

Fed policymakers have said they want to see “substantial further progress” toward their employment and inflation goals before scaling back the accommodative measures.

Investors are also digesting more details of President Biden’s corporate tax plan, which aims to raise as much as $2.5 trillion over 15 years. It includes a strict new minimum tax on global profits and cracking down on companies that try to move profits offshore.

In European, trading the Stoxx Europe 600 gained 0.6 percent, while the FTSE 100 in Britain rose 0.8 percent higher. In Asia, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong ended the day 1.2 percent higher.

The yield on 10-year Treasury notes was down 3 basis points, to 1.63 percent.

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